Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Am Soooo Ready to Race

This was a short training week due to our spending the weekend wine tasting in Paso Robles for my birthday.

Okay, fine, it's because one of our wineries was holding their preview weekend & we had to taste everything & decide what to order. But it was still my birthday, & I still got to drink amazing wine & eat fantastic food on it.

We spent my birthday morning tasting the wines of our excellent acquaintance Jacob Toft in the Denner barrel room. He's been getting some great press lately, which is so wonderful.

Jacob worked at L'Aventure (the winery we were down to preview at, incidentally) for some years, which is where we got to know him. He is now working on his own wine full time now, & because they tend to sell out SUPER fast, this is the first time we've been on top of things enough to get in touch with him ahead of time & arrange to taste his stuff.

We were not disappointed & left with half a case! His wines have a lot in common with what we've come to love about the L'Aventure wines -- big, complex, well-balanced, & age-worthy. Look him up (by which I mean email him ahead of time) the next time you're in Paso.

Down in the winery guts, where they do fancy wine science.
(Wine making is basically just the delicious parts of chemistry.)

I finished this week tired (11 straight days of running is a LOT for me), but feeling sooooo ready to get back to racing.

Grand Total: 31.5 miles

    * 23.5 easy
    * 4 threshold / tempo
    * 4 speed / intervals

Monday 2/18: 4 miles easy. I normally don't run the day after my long runs but since it was a short week & Monday was a holiday, I decided to get in a few easy ones. Normally I feel a little hungover the day after a long run, but I felt AMAZING. No lingering soreness. No aches in my feet. No feeling slow & sluggish.

My Garmin was being a little bitch (again) so I don't know what my pace was, but if I had to guess I would speculate that I was probably down in the 8:20-8:30 range again. It's when I can do easy runs at that pace and have it legitimately feel easy and comfortable that I know that I'm starting to kind-of-sort-of get back into race shape. I can also tell because the few moderate hills between my house & my usual turnaround no longer make me feel like I want to die & instead just make me go, "Oh, right, there's a little hill here." I actually would have gone out an extra mile & back for 6 total if I'd known that our karate class was going to end up cancelled. Ah, well.

Tuesday 2/19:

  • Lunch time - Strength work.
  • Evening - Speed / intervals. 2 warm up; 4 x (1200m @ 5K pace / 3:00 rec); 1.5 cool down = 7.5. Technically this was supposed to be 4 x 5:00 @ 5K pace, but I've found that you can pretty much set your watch by my running 1200's at 5K pace in 5:00, so I decided to go by distance rather than time because it's easier on my brain.


    I warmed up in my Kinvaras, then wore the new flats for the first three intervals. Towards the end of that third recovery jog, I could feel in my calves & Achilles(es?) that I was kind of pushing the limit of what they are really capable of in flats right now, so I switched back into the Kinvaras for the last 1200m (which felt really freaking weird). I am love love LOVING these new guys & I promise to write a review soon! (Like, for realsies, as opposed to my other recent shoe reviews. Which are non-existent.)

    The awesome part was that this run did not even feel hard. Not two 1200s, not two 1200s with an 800 in the middle, but four, and at legit 5K pace, not ugh-I-know-I'm-not-in-great-shape-so-I'm-lowering-my-expectations-kinda-sorta 5K pace. Other than the little twinge in my calf, I finished feeling like I hadn't done a speed session at all, which was pretty cool.

Wednesday 2/20:

  • Lunch time - Pilates. Arrrgggghhhh hip flexors. Clearly those are what need the most work right now. Also, anyone need some new hamstring exercises? Because I can help you out with that. I have learned more new hamstring exercises in this class than you probably ever want to know about.
  • Afternoon - 4 miles easy on the 'mill. I have to give myself a little pep talk each and every time now where I remind myself that slower is not necessarily easier and it's actually more comfortable for me to do these short treadmill jaunts in the high eights than the mid nines. Also, it seems like a good audiobook may be the best way to make this contraption moderately bearable. Not fun & exciting, but bearable.
  • Evening - Karate.

Thursday 2/21:

Friday 2/22: 2 warm up + 4 @ marathon pace + 2 cool down = 8. These were my first MP miles since CIM, and clearly my body has forgotten how to do it. It has trouble reconciling that the pace we are looking for here is both a race pace AND relatively comfortable. If you think about shifting gears in a car, it feels like this particular one is hidden in between two others right now so I can't quite lock into it. As a result I was about 15 seconds per mile too fast the whole way. Ah well; I've got 13 more weeks to nail it down, I suppose. :)

Aaaaaand next week, next week, NEXT WEEK????????? (which at this point is really this week...)

Hellz yeah, bitches; it's time to toe the effing line.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Engine & The Chassis

Fitness gains from running come in two types: cardiovascular and musculoskeletal.

You get fitter from a cardiovascular standpoint because running stimulates your body to make more red blood cells, capillaries, more & bigger mitochondria (the parts of your cells that actually produce usable energy from sugar & oxygen), pump your blood more forcefully, take in more oxygen more quickly, store more glycogen, etc. etc. etc.

From a musculoskeletal standpoint, running stimulates your body to grow more & tougher muscle fibers, tougher bones & connective tissue, stronger stabilizer muscles, etc.

The best analogy I ever heard for the development of these two systems in runners has to do with cars: Just like a vehicle, you have an engine (your cardiovascular system) and a chassis (your musculoskeletal system). To run your best, you need both in good working order.

A brand-new runner who has not been keeping strong & fit in other ways is (excuse the cruelty of the analogy, it's really not meant to be cruel) like an old, well-worn clunker -- neither the engine NOR the chassis are all that reliable. You can probably get around in it okay, but not very far, and not very fast. Unlike an old clunker, though, a not-very-fit new runner has the advantage that the more s/he drives that clunker around, the less clunky it gets. Both the engine and chassis will become better and better, and over time s/he can drive both farther and faster.

The trouble for many new runners is that the two don't develop at the same rate. It turns out that the cardiovascular system far, FAR outpaces the physical tissue in terms of how much it can handle how soon. This is a big part of why it's so common for new runners to end up overdoing it & getting hurt after a few months of steady improvement. The cardiovascular system feels great -- look how much farther s/he can run! And how much faster! And it felt AWESOME! Clearly s/he is ready for more of both.

This is kind of like putting a Ferrarri engine into a 20 year old station wagon & taking it to a racetrack. (Kind of an exaggeration, but you get the point.) It might be alright for a few laps, but sooner or later you know that something bad is probably going to happen.

I think even experienced runners are susceptible to this after some time off. The cardio gets back to reasonably okay after a few weeks, but the muscles/bones/tendons/etc. lag behind a little. I've done it. Lately I have gone to quite a lot of trouble to ensure that my chassis stays in good working order, so I wouldn't say I'm in that boat right now. But during my easy eight miles on Thursday I could definitely tell it was kind of tired--tired from yoga, from Pilates, from extra karate practice, from running ten days in a row (I usually top out at six, and the average is probably more like four).

Meanwhile, my cardio system was rocketing along & behaving kind of like that one friend we all have, bless her heart, that has to be the center of attention at every occasion and is forever abusing the caps lock. "Oh, this pace feels so EASY, don't YOU think it's easy?? I could keep going like this FOREVER OMG it feels soooOOooo GREAT!!!!!! I TOTALLY {heart} this run!!!! {heart} {heart} {heart}"

& the chassis's over there in the corner, making gagging motions & rolling her eyes & really just trying to enjoy a beer in peace. "Yeah, we got it, cupcake. You're freaking awesome."

But even rolling her eyes at the diva-esque engine a little, the chassis totally kept up, chugging up & down hills like they weren't there & keeping everything balanced & aligned & completely ache-and-pain free. I tried to rein the cardio system in somewhat, especially knowing I had a marathon pace run the next day, which was hard but got a breathless thank you from the musculoskeletal stuff.

So yeah. I think I probably should've taken this one a little slower, not because of my fitness level but just because I've been asking so much of my body lately. It takes a lot to wear out your cardiovascular system; it takes a lot less for the bones & muscles. On the other hand, it is a very good feeling to take an eight-mile easy run at only a minute slower than half marathon pace & believe that if my legs were fresh it would've been a complete and total cake walk.

For that reason, I'm starting to get really psyched about Hellyer 10K next Saturday. I'm not planning on tapering much, but I will probably skip my extra strength work in hopes of finding a *little* extra pep in the legs. I haven't run a short speedy race in nearly seven months so it is definitely time. Huzzah for racing!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Change of Plans

Well, I have thought long and hard about it & have finally decided that as much as I would like to, it doesn't make sense for me to run the Santa Cruz 10K on April 7. I want to. I really, really want to. But it's just two weeks after the Oakland Half, I'll be out of town the week before for work & flying home the day before, it's a reasonably long trek for such a short race (which I'm not sure is a great idea pretty much immediately getting off a plane), and my black belt test is the following Saturday. I think I'd probably be pretty well recovered from a 10K after six days, but while there will be plenty of 10Ks and halfs and even marathons in my life, there will (hopefully) only ever be one black belt test, and I don't want to risk having an injury or even being sore or a little tired.

(For comparison, imagine running a marathon where every five or ten minutes you have to sprint the next half mile, sometimes with people hitting/attacking you or asking you complex questions about history and physics and philosophy and sometimes while swinging around a giant stick or big metal prongs.)

So Santa Cruz is out. Maybe next year.

Instead, I'm thinking about running the Napa Valley Silverado Half on April 21. That would be the weekend after my black belt test, three weeks post-Oakland, and would still give me a month before Ojai / Mountains 2 Ocean / Mountains 2 Beach whatever the hell marathon I'm running Memorial Day weekend. It is a little pricier than what I'm normally willing to pay for a half ($80 before 3/1), but I really want to race in April and I don't have a whole lot of flexibility in terms of scheduling. Also, it's reasonably close, super small (capped at 1000), and looks like a good course (mostly along Silverado Trail).

I want to keep my focus on The Marathon That (apparently) Shall Not Be Named, so if I run Silverado I probably will not taper for it much or at all, run it at maybe ~85-90% & just treat it as fun break from the monotony of long runs through Golden Gate Park & a chance to see what kind of shape I'm in. This is pretty much the approach I took to Healdsburg last October while in the midst of CIM training, which I have to say worked out pretty darn well for me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

#winning (and drinking beer, which is also technically #winning)

Friends, last week was San Francisco Beer Week!!

What yeasty, hoppy, malty, ferment-ey wonders were partaken of? Like, sooooo many. If you live here & you like beer, I hope you managed to hit some awesome events, because they were indeed awesome.

In more running-ish news, this is what *actually training* looks like:

It's been a while since my RunningAhead summary page has looked anything even remotely like this. I'm finally starting to feel like an honest-to-gods legit runner again.

Grand Total: 40.6 miles

    * 22 easy
    * 4.3 threshold / tempo
    * 2.3 speed / intervals
    * 12 long

Monday 2/11:

  • Lunch time - Yoga as per usual.
  • Evening - Karate + strength work (by which I mean some random ab stuff, because we started late, which meant we did sort of self-directed warm-ups, & I only do push-ups when someone makes me). Oh heeeeeey there, long run hangover. :P

Tuesday 2/12:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. I think I'm getting more efficient at this. I can pack a LOT into 40 minutes, which is as long as I try to stay gone from work.
  • Evening - 5.3 speed. 1.5 warm up; 1200m @ 5K pace / 1:00 jog; 800m @ 3K pace / 2:00 jog; 1200m @ 5K pace; 1.5 cool down. How do I love being out on the track for some speedy intervals? Let me count the ways. I can tell it's getting close to to track season because come 5:30 there are about a billion teenagers doing high knees & butt kicks on the straightaways.

    Took these bad boys out for a test drive...

    ...which was nothing short of flipping awesome. I think I'm in love.

    Also, it is encouraging to notice that just a few weeks ago, the two 1200s were taking a lot out of me, but with this workout, not only did I do the two 1200s, at a faster pace, with an even faster 800 in between, but all three actually felt pretty easy & I finished feeling great. Oh hey there VO2! Nice to see you again!

    We topped off the night with three--count 'em, THREE--awesome beer week events. A little Midnight Sun BrewCo action at Amnesia, some rare & exotic Dogfish Head offerings at The Sycamore, & dinner plus a few other tasty things at Southern Pacific Brewing.

    Don & I first discovered Midnight Sun by randomly wandering into the brewery when we were in Anchorage a few years ago. We are total beer snobs, and just about everything they had blew us away. They weren't really distributed in the Lower 48 then, so we brought back as much as we had room for. Really everything they make is fantastic, but if you ever get a chance to try their Treat (an imperial chocolate pumpkin porter) you just have to, unless you hate porters or pumpkin. I have had a lot of pumpkin beers that are just too over the top with the pumpkin, but theirs is just about perfect--intense enough to notice, but subtle enough not to overpower the other flavors. GOD I could drink gallons of that stuff.

    And Dogfish Head--well, I tend to avoid them because most of what gets distributed of theirs tends to be super hoppy & mostly IPAs, but it turns out that they make a bunch of stuff that they don't really bottle or distribute much that is really, REALLY good & not super hoppy. Things we had that I recommend trying if you ever get the chance include their Bitch's Brew stout, their Imperial Belgian Wheat, & anything from the crazy series they're doing where they chemically analyze beer residue found on ancient drinking & storage vessels & reverse engineer it. Fascinating!

    I have to say that we were kind of disappointed by the lack of Fat Tuesday celebrating at the various venues. We were the only ones wearing beads. Where is your Mardi Gras spirit, SF Beer Week???? :P

Wednesday 2/13:

  • Lunch time - Pilates as per usual.
  • Afternoon - 4 easy. On the treadmill again; I took it a little faster, which made it easier, & also watched some Batman.
  • Evening - Karate + easy strength work.

Thursday 2/14:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. Now that I kind of have a routine going, I find that I get sweatier and also get in & out faster.
  • Evening - 6 easy. This was one of those runs where, once I hit the turnaround & was heading ever slightly downhill, I just felt like going fast. Huzzah for those runs where you feel like flying, & can barely be bothered to put your feet on the ground every stride. It's been a long, looooong while since I had one of those. :)

    Also, you *know* that my gentleman & I totally celebrated St. Valentine's by attending another awesome Beer Week event. It turns out our good friends at City Beer Store in SOMA were hosting the Midnight Sun folks, so this was really a no-brainer. (And btw, if you live in the Bay Area, and you like beer, and you've never been to City Beer before, then oh man. Just go. Go now. And be sure to introduce yourself to Craig & Beth if they happen to be in. They are just the nicest beer nerds you will ever want to meet.)


Friday 2/15: 7.3 miles. 1.5 warm up; 4 x (1600m @ HM pace / 1:00 jog); 1.5 cool down. As treadmill runs go, I've pretty much decided that tempo / threshold-type ones suck the least. The intervals break up the monotony, but you're not going so fast that the treadmill feels like it's about to fall apart and/or you are one false step away from an unspeakable yet YouTube-worthy tragedy. (I will do speed workouts on a treadmill, but only if I have no other option and the interval distances divide neatly into hundredths of miles. None of this 300m bullshit.)

Saturday 2/16: 6 easy. This was one of the best runs I've had in a while. I felt fast & light-footed & completely without any sort of ache or pain of any kind. It is one thing when I'm hitting 8:35's on an "easy" run because really I'm pushing too fast and too hard & making it into a not-so-easy run, but on this one that pace (and even faster on the way back) felt truly, legitimately easy. I guess that is the sort of thing that happens when you actually do all your workouts (WHAT??) & hit consistent mileage (HUH?!?) for, like, four weeks in a row.

Originally I'd planned to race the 3200m at a Cal Berkeley All-Comers meet, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I really want to keep my focus on the marathon & getting in consistent mileage, and it just didn't seem like there was much to be gained from trashing my legs in a short, speedy race I'm not really trained for right now.

Also, we did a home brew walking tour of the Mission:

I want this fridge. Also someone to make me tasty beer to put in it.

It was delicious. I am trying to talk my baker friend E into attempting the cupcakes.

Sunday 2/17: 12 long. A bunch of us got together for a birthday run & brunch to celebrate the lovely Kristin. What a gorgeous day for it!

I always forget how great running with other people is until I do it. A lot of people were excited to do 10 together, so my plan was to arrive early & do 3 on my own beforehand to hit my scheduled 13 for the day. Alas, I was slow getting out of the house so by the time I arrived I only had time for 2. The rest of the miles flew by as we jogged past the ballpark, along the Embarcadero, & then over to Marina Green & back. Even at the end of my peak-est weak since mid-November, I felt fantastic the whole time.

Because mimosas are not optional

Also, Aron taught us how to do this:

Bagel with cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, tomato slice, & lemon pepper.

...which pretty much rocked.

Seriously. It's been a great week.

I will be out of town next weekend (and NOT seeking out a treadmill), which is okay because I'm due for a bit of a cutback anyway. It just means I'll need to be extra-vigilant about getting in my weekday runs.

Hope you had a GREAT President's Day weekend!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gear Review: Moving Comfort Sprint Tech Capri

It's winter, so let's talk running tights.

It was many years before I had to actually purchase any. In middle school, I was uninitiated & ran in cotton sweats on particularly cold days (which, it being Texas, were few & far between). In high school, purple spandex tights were part of the 19 bajillion-piece uniform checked out to us by the team. In college, cold days meant running on the indoor track, and during my first few years out of school I belonged to a gym where I could go jump on a treadmill rather than risk goosebumps.

I think I bought my first pair circa 2006 from Target for about $10 (probably Champion or some such), which served me well for many years. However, as they aged, the not-terribly-subtle seams got more and more matted & frazzled which led to some horrific chafing after much more than five or six miles.

My second pair was also pretty cheap, a basic pair from Aspire that I got from Sports Authority. That was the first time I'd been tights shopping in a while, and I still remember being floored by the prices. Seriously?? I remember thinking. For a couple of square yards of spandex!?!? I could not fathom paying upwards of $20 for something that was just not all that complex to make. The worst part was the myriad sets of tags doing their utmost to justify the absurd prices, extolling the virtues of super-triple-wic-dri-max mesh panels or the extra special Spandex of God woven by a colony of Trappist monks living on a remote mountainside in Nepal.

I'll give you $5 extra for a zipper pocket. But seriously?!?!

I remember staring for a while, rendered powerless by option paralysis, then finally settling on the Aspire ones because they were the most reasonably priced of the bunch with a zipper pocket.

My third set, I got with a Groupon for Lombardi Sports - a pair of Nike Pro Combat compression tights. Worth $40 (the retail price) they were not, but at $25 (the price post-Groupon), they were quite reasonable. (Do not ask me why the male version of these tights have sharp gray lines outlining the package area. Not damn a clue.)

The problem, though, is that I proceeded to fall deeply & irrevocably in love with them. Do you know how much I love you? I would whisper to them post sub-50° F long run as I stroked the soft, silky material and admired the stylish, flattering waist band that sat firmly in place yet did not pinch. Plus they doubled nicely as a base layer for skiing. You are the tights I've been looking for. Where've you been all my life, baby?

I'd rather not talk about the online purchase of a pair of slate-gray New Balance tights last year. There is a reason we wear black tights for running and that reason should never, ever be questioned.

What with skiing, yoga, Pilates, & the recent cold snap (you know, 40s), I've found myself running short on tights lately & decided it was time for another pair. Of course, there was no question; another set of Nike Pro Combats it was. Yes, $40 is a bit steep, but I really just can't describe the level of perfection we're talking about, here, & I can usually dig up some kind of discount on something I really want.

Except, horror of horrors, they don't make them anymore.

I trust you've all experienced that sickening, gut-wrenching feeling at some point or another.

Tears were shed. Teeth were gnashed. Garments were rent. Yes, they have this new thing called the Nike Pro Core II compression tight, but who can say how close it really is to my beloved Pro Combats?

Which led me down all kinds of mental rabbit holes about my favorite gear and what may or may not be discontinued at any moment.

Quick! the rabbit holes insisted, To the Internet! What do you like? Google it, now! THERE'S NOT A SECOND TO LOSE!!!

Which is how I ended up at Moving Comfort, the makers of one of the only two sports bras I trust for actual, serious long-distance running. Is there an "Alexis" in a pattern I find compelling & don't already own? Done. (For a review, I refer you to this post.)

But then I couldn't bear to pay for shipping. And my qi was weak from the Pro Combat tights blow. So, in a fit of deprivation-fueled panic, I ended up adding these to my cart:


So weak that I broke two of my cardinal rules: 1) $30 max for tights & 2) no online purchasing of unknown quantities except in cases of CRAAAAAZY deals. Then I wept in shame. At least the bra was on sale.

But then they came in the mail, and I had them, so I figured I might as well figure out whether they were good for anything. And, thankfully, I'm happy to report that, yes, they do in fact function reasonably well as running tights. A few notes:

  • They are not as stretchy as tights made mainly from spandex. Not a big deal, but probably worth mentioning.
  • The material is kind of thick & heavy; if I had been looking at them in a store (sigh), I probably would have ruled them out based on that because I usually like them on the lighter side. However, this may mean that they're a little warmer than my other pairs, which could be a plus in truly cold weather...
  • ...Except that they really are more "capris" than "tights," and I sort of hate that. Pre-run, when I first put them on, they come down to maybe just shy of mid-calf, which is exactly where I like them. However, ten strides in they bunch up to right below my knee, which kind of makes them look like longish compression shorts. This isn't exactly uncomfortable; it just feels weird & makes them look kind of weird. And also rules out their serving as a super-cold-weather pair (unless I wear them with ski socks) since they leave basically my entire lower leg exposed. (I might have figured this out if I had bothered looking at the other pictures on the page.)

Hmmm, this or totally fine, not-amazing pair of tights? Let me pretend to think about it for like FIVE SECONDS.
So are they fine? Yes; they are fine. Are they reasonably comfortable? Yes; they are comfortable and have nicely flattened seams to prevent chafing (a lesson the $10 Target pair taught me). Are they exactly what I was looking for? No, not really. Are they worth $68? For me, I just can't say they are.

Of course, you might feel differently. You might LUUUURRVE this particular length & really dig the sturdier fabric and/or feel like a really lovely pair of tights are *totally* equivalent in value to an extremely unshabby dinner somewhere in this fine city. As for me, I'd rather have the pre fixe at Fleur de Lys.

Sigh. When will I learn this lesson? When, I ask you?

If you need me, I'll be at Sports Authority trying out the Nike Pro Core II's. :P

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nothing Like New Toys :)

Last weekend, these came:

..."These" being my first set of non-generic sai. The ones I've been learning on for the past few years have been functional, but stamped from a pretty standard one-size-kinda-sorta-fits all mold that's really too long, heavy, & wide for me. (Also, there is a lot to be said for real, actual cotton cord grips, as opposed to the layers & layers of athletic tape I've wrapped around the butt ends of my old ones.) With my testing coming up I decided I should finally upgrade to a custom-fitted set as soon as possible so I have time to get comfortable with them, and I am SUPER super psyched about getting some time in with them in the next few weeks.

(Fun fact: In addition to martial arts training, sai are also good for grilling kababs & roasting marshmallows. How are there no pictures of this on the internet???)

Other new toys I have recently (or soon to have recently) acquired include this...

...and this...

...and these:

So stay tuned for some sweet gear reviews in the not-too-distant-future unless I get distracted by something shiny. Huzzah for huge clearance sales!!

Overall, I had a pretty good week, though I am not too proud to admit that suddenly jumping up 130% in mileage & adding in a bunch of strength / cross training stuff all at once may have caught up with me just a little. For that reason this ended up being a little bit of a cut-back week, which I think is MORE than totally fine. What with all the New Year's momentum, it's really tempting to push myself to do more miles / more speed work / more strength work because hey, it's not killing me yet!

There is a lot of year left to go, though, and there are still many many weeks to go before the Ojai Marathon Mountains 2 Ocean Mountains 2 Beach in May. (Seriously, could someone just pick a name for this race? I feel like it's changed like 3 times since I first heard about it.) I'd rather be a little slower at the shorter races I have between now & then & have a good marathon than muscle out PRs at those & end up getting hurt, peaking too soon, or overtrained come Memorial Day weekend.

Patience, grasshopper.

Grand Total: 31.2 miles

    * 16 easy
    * 3.2 threshold / tempo
    * 12 long

Monday 2/4:

  • Lunch time - Yoga. Same class as last Monday. I could be imagining things, but I think my Achilles tendons are beginning to loosen up. I still can't do a proper "downward dog," but at least I don't look like I'm doing "sickly dog with scoliosis" anymore.
  • Evening - Karate + strength work. Because I don't really like sparring & apparently they're going to make me do it at my testing, we did a bunch of that. I got to spar some with Don, which hasn't happened in AGES. Yes, sometimes you hurt the one you love, and sometimes the one you love hurts you, sometimes by punching you in the eye and making your fingernails bleed. I wish I at least had a cool black eye to show you but apparently it wasn't quite hard enough for that, & my bloody fingernail is frankly just kind of gross. Lessons learned: Don't block with eye sockets or fingernails. (You would think I'd have that those ones down by now, wouldn't you?)

    Tuesday 2/5:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. A bit sore from sparring, but got some good stuff done.
  • Evening - 5 miles threshold; 1 wu + 3 x (1600m @ 7:30 / 100m jog) + 1 cd. If I'd had the time, I would've preferred a little more of a warm up / cool down, but dinner plans called, so again it was a game of "get this done as quickly & efficiently as possible," ie, on the gym treadmill. On the one hand, it was very reassuring to run several miles at this pace and not feel like death (and BOY does running fast go a long way towards making the treadmill very very slightly more bearable). On the other hand, my shoulders were sore from karate, and I've noticed that one of the hard things about running fast on the treadmill is that the front of it rather inhibits a natural arm swing. So my options are basically run at the very very back of the belt where one false step is likely to catapult me into the ellipticals, or run with cramped, bunched up T-Rex arms. The sore shoulders made it worse, so although my cardio system & legs were doing just fine, my arms & shoulders were VERY glad to see that cool down mile finally tick off.

    Wednesday 2/6:

  • Lunch time - Pilates. There was a sub today who was maybe just a tiny bit less of a drill sergeant than the usual teacher, and we also did a ton of ab stuff which tends to be easier for me than anything else, but none of that is to say that it was still not freaking hard.
  • Afternoon - 4 easy. Like last week, I took the approach of jumping on the treadmill for a short run immediately after work in order to give my legs maximal recovery time before karate. I got kicked in the right quad pretty hard in karate on Monday, which was bugging me a little (& probably wasn't helped by Tuesday's threshold run), but for the most part this run was fine (besides the inevitable treadmill boredom).
  • Evening - Karate + strength work. (The strength work part kind of deteriorated into a few of us challenging each other with new & ever more sadistic ab exercises but what can you do.) I took it a little easier because of my sore quad & spent a lot of time playing with the new sai & trying to get a feel for them.

    Thursday 2/7:

  • Lunch time - Strength work. I've been asking a lot of my body these last couple of weeks in terms of running, karate, and cross-training and felt like maybe it would be good to have a little break from some of the impact Friday. I think it was grateful.
  • Evening - 6 easy + yoga. God, I hate treadmills. Damn you for being so convenient & efficient.

    Friday 2/8: 5 mile speed session 4 easy. Thursday's yoga was super hip / thigh focused, which maybe wasn't so great after just running 6 miles. I think I over-worked them a little, because they were absolutely KILLING me all day Friday, even just walking around the office. I didn't have time to go to the track on Tuesday so I was really looking forward to it Friday afternoon, but part of me felt like running 300s near-all-out was probably not the best choice. To be honest I didn't really feel much like running at all, but I made a compromise with myself wherein some amount of running should happen, as long as it was easy & didn't bug my hip flexors. I turned around while I was still feeling good & got in about 4 miles. Zero day averted.

    Saturday 2/9: My hip flexors were still not feeling much better after taking it easy Friday, so I decided to take Saturday completely off. I'm pretty sure I could've slogged through a track workout or a few more easy miles, but I thought it was probably more important not to risk making the hip flexors worse & instead invest in a good, strong, pain-free long run on Sunday.

    Sunday 2/10: 12 long. It seems like the extra rest day Saturday was the right choice. Hip flexors felt great, & except for a little weirdness in my right knee & some cramping in my right calf (which almost never happens), I had a good, strong run & felt better all the way through than I did on my previous two. It also felt good to finish at a decent pace & knowing I could've gone further with no problem.

    Next weekend I may or may not be racing a track 3200m at a Cal Berkeley all-comers track meet. Originally I wanted to do a 5K around this time as a fitness gauge, but although I'm making progress & slowly but surely getting the lead out, I frankly don't need a race right now to tell me that I am a lo-o-o-ong way from racing shape, particularly when it comes to speed. And I'm not sure how much fun it will really be if I end up going & just feeling like crap. But who knows -- maybe I'll wake up Saturday morning and say to myself, "You know, running two miles all-out on a track is EXACTLY what I want to do today."

    Or I might just go to spectate, to scope out the scene & get a sense of how things work in case I get another chance sometime. We'll see.

  • Thursday, February 7, 2013

    I Really Have Got to Figure Out Treadmill Running

    Today was kind of a comedy of errors. Lately I have been pretty good about packing my food & gym stuff the night before, but apparently last night I was not fully awake. Halfway through the work day I went to put my hair up & realized that I had forgotten to grab a hair tie.


    But I grabbed a rubber band from the supply room & soldiered on. After work I went to the gym to run 6 miles on the treadmill (GAAAAAAHHH) & then go to an evening yoga class, only to find that I had forgotten to pack running socks, and more importantly, running SHOES.


    Fortunately I was at least *wearing* socks that I could feasibly run in, and an old pair of running shoes that had been relegated to walking-around shoes since I'd decided at some point I wasn't crazy about them for running. I wouldn't run a marathon in them or anything but they were functional for a few easy miles.

    Post yoga, I went back to the locker room to change out of my sweaty tank & sports bra & into a nice, clean, dry T-shirt for the 45 minute commute home. Or not.


    I may or may not need to start sleeping more.

    Yep. Pretty much what it's like.
    Other things I need to do include figuring out how to run on a treadmill without feeling like I want to shoot myself in the face. Four miles is tough. Six is freaking miserable. I brought my headphones this time so I could at least listen to a podcast, but apparently the misery of running on a treadmill trumps a cool podcast. I kept realizing that I had no idea what had happened in the podcast for the last five minutes because I was too busy dwelling on the mind-numbing monotony of the situation.

    I figured I'd warm up at a relatively slow pace, then gradually speed it up. But running at the slow pace actually seemed reasonably hard, so I didn't speed it up. The construction of the treadmill also makes it really difficult to have a natural arm swing & I think because of that my shoulders felt tense & uncomfortable the whole time. And my Achilles tendons were back to feeling like steel cables.

    God, I counted down the tenths of miles. Treadmill, let me count the ways in which you completely and totally suck. My lower legs felt epically trashed after what was my slowest run of 2013 thus far.

    But then I realized yoga was starting in 10 minutes, & I'd left my mat in the car, so I kind of sprinted out into the parking lot & back.

    And felt GREAT. Whaaaaaa??

    So now I think part of my problem is that while running at a slower warm-up pace on the treadmill seems easier, it's actually not easier in terms of impact. What is probably easier is running at a faster, more efficient pace, so the next time I'm on the 'mill I'm going to give that a shot & see if it helps.

    Any other dreadmill tips? I will take anything I can get at this point. :P

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    What Sweet Blogs Am I Missing Out On???

    First, congratulations, all you KP kids! I hope you kicked the shit out of the Great Highway. (GOD I hate that part of that race. Hate hate hate.) And to all you 49ers fans, I hope you're doing okay.

    Generally I am not one for resolutions but I do have a few non-running ones I'm trying to focus on this year. Again, I was wary of getting too ambitious & complicated, so I tried to keep it simple & narrow it down to some specific but easy things that I really, really, REALLY wanted to work on.

    • Read more - Spend most free time reading, & read at least 12 books this year. (3 down so far!)
    • Sleep more - I'm trying to get ready for bed as soon as I'm done eating & in for the night no matter what time it is (brush the teeth, take the contacts out, etc.). The idea is to avoid this stupid thing I do sometimes where I'll get stuck on the couch exhausted going, "Ughhhhh, I'm too tired to get ready for bed." Which tends to result in staying up for another hour doing literally nothing. And speaking of doing nothing...
    • Avoid mindless web surfing - You know how this works. You're like, "I just need to unwind for a few minutes..." You start by checking the email, then the Facebook, then the Twitter, you read your blogs, then you hop over to Pinterest for a minute, then you click on something you saw there, which leads you to something else interesting, which reminds you of something you were thinking about the other day which you ABSOLUTELY MUST LOOK UP ON WIKIPEDIA RIGHT NOW...and then it's 1 a.m. & you're five links deep into some Bermuda Triangle conspiracy linking September 11 to the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby and you're too tired to get ready for bed.

    Getting a smart phone has actually helped with this, because checking my email & social networks on my phone is really quick, & I don't get sucked into surfing. The downside of this is that I haven't been reading blogs as much, which is something I really enjoy but often ended up doing mid-mindless surfing. So if you wrote a really awesome blog post lately & I didn't comment about how awesome it was, that's probably why. (Orrrrr I don't know about your awesome blog, & you should totally link it in the comments!)

    So I have been trying to get on my Google Reader at least a couple of times a week & hit all my favorites in at least some kind of rotating fashion. I swear I'm not ignoring you.

    Which, speaking of awesome blogs I don't know about, what are they?? Every now and then someone whose blog I read will link to other people they read that I don't know about, and it's always fun to click over & check it out. So please -- if there is an awesome blog you read that is not in my little side bar list (yes, if you're in Reader you'll have to click through to check), send me a link! I always love reading about what awesome & interesting people are up to.

    A pretty respectable week, training wise. Which makes two in a row. #progress?

    Grand Total: 38 miles

      * 25.3 easy
      * 1.7 speed / intervals
      * 11 long

    Monday 1/28:

  • Lunch time - Yoga. This was a different class than last Thursday, & this teacher was definitely not into going into as much detail about the different poses & exactly what angle each particular body part should be at, etc. Sometimes she would just say the name & I kind of just had to hope that the people around me knew what they were doing.
  • Evening - Karate + mild strength work. I think I did some push ups & crunches & stuff & that was about it.

    Tuesday 1/29:

  • Lunch time - Strength session. I did not get to do leg presses because of a dude who was sucking at the gym. How does one suck at the gym, you might ask? By putting a billion pounds on a piece of equipment, doing like three shaky reps (in jeans no less, wtf), then "saving" it with a giant towel over the seat (with the weights still on of course) while he went to do, like, I don't know, something else for 10 minutes. Then he'd come back, do three more shaky reps, wash / rinse / repeat. He sucks.
  • Evening - 3.7 speed workout (1 mile warm up; 2 x 1200m @ 6:45 w/ 1:00 jog; 1 mile cool down). This ended up a little abbreviated because I had to squeeze it in between work & a promised movie date; realistically I probably would've done a 1.5 mile warm up / cool down & maybe one additional 1200, but I'm just happy I managed to get something in.

    In related news, you really do not need to go see The Hobbit, mainly because of this:

    So completely unnecessary. Also, there's a movie desperately in need of some editing. Geez Louise.

    Wednesday 1/30:

  • Lunch time - Pilates. Gaaawwwwd, soooo miserable. But in that this-is-only-showing-me-how-badly-I-need-to-do-this kind of way. My hip flexors hated me for at least two days after. It is a good thing I can only make this class once a week because I'm not sure I could take more than that.
  • Afternoon - 4 miles easy on the treadmill. Running before karate is always dicey & sometimes results in shitty karate, so I don't do it that often, but since my evenings are busy this week I figured I should try to get a few in. I hoped that if I ran as soon as possible (ie, immediately after leaving work) and in the most efficient manner possible (ie, treadmill), my legs would have the most time to recover and I might stand a chance of them not being trashed by karate time.
  • Evening - Karate + strength work. Legs were okay; they've definitely been worse.

    Thursday 1/31: I worked from home on Thursday, so my schedule got changed around a little.

  • Mid-day - 6 easy. Always a treat to get a nice, outdoor, DAYLIGHT run in on a clear, sunny day. 62°, no wind, & just lovely. A bit of shin splints pain, but I know that more often than not that tends to happen when I'm tired, and my core muscles were still pretty shredded from le Pilates the day before.
  • Evening - Half-assed strength work. This is the down side of working from home, and half the point of making myself physically go to the gym at lunch time. Yes, technically I can do at home most of what I do at the gym, but I was kind of squeezing this in between running & finishing some work stuff & getting ready for dinner plans -- a couple sets of lunges, a few one-legged squats, etc. -- which eventually turned into "Eh, I'll finish the rest when we get home." One guess how that went.

    Friday 2/1:

  • Lunch time - The other half of Thursday night's half-assed strength work. Between Thursday evening & Friday afternoon, a full-ass's worth of strength work was accomplished.
  • Evening - 7 easy. This run had me really worried for about 3.5 miles. My lower calf / Achilles areas were so, so tight & painful (one of the reasons I've re-committed to yoga / stretching), & sometimes that sets off my shin splints issues. But, once I turned around & started heading back downhill (I kind of live in a basin), everything loosened up & felt great.

    Saturday 2/2: 6.3 easy. A bit chilly and dark, but otherwise just lovely. I felt great -- not an ache or pain in sight. And to think I almost took a rest day because of how tired I felt on Friday. More of these, please. :)

    Sunday 2/3: 11 long. With significant mileage increases, there seems to be this hard / easy / hard pattern with my so-called "easy" runs (witness Friday-Saturday-Sunday). Boy, this was a tough one. Back to 20-30 second breaks every half mile or so, though it did get just a little easier on the way back.

    So it looks like I finally get to start doing threshold runs again next week. On paper I tend to dread these runs, but a lot of times they actually end up being some of my favorites.

    Also, I'm getting the race itch. I know I'm not ready yet & there are plenty on the calendar a few weeks / months from now, but mentally I am SOOOO ready to throw down. Maybe I'll pin an old bib to my shirt & fake-race someone on the treadmill without their knowledge next week...

  • Saturday, February 2, 2013

    Back on the Strength Work Wagon...

    A friend posted this pic on Facebook recently, with a link to this post from Runner in Denial. Can I get an amen, here? We're all with you, RiD. Seriously. Ain't nobody got time for that. If you're me, you've barely got time to run.

    But is it all the mid-winter aches & pains? The optimism & fresh-start-ness of a new year? The beginning of spring marathon season? Who can say? Still, whether it's blog posts, Facebook, or emails from various running sites, strength training (& cross training in general) is very much in the air.

    I've been getting back to it myself recently, & trying to do so in a more structured & consistent way than I have this past year (during which I pretty much sucked at it outside of karate). So I figured I might as well throw in my two cents on the subject & how I've been dealing with it, for whatever it's worth.

    Some background:

    For most of my running life, I've been involved in sports or physical activities besides running that worked other muscles in addition to the big running ones and / or used the running ones in different ways (gymnastics / dance, swimming, horseback riding, karate, & weight training mostly), particularly my core muscles. It wasn't really intentional (with the exception of the weight training we did as part of cross country & track); those were just the activities I happened to like doing. And with the exception of shin splints, I never had any kind of running-related injury or problem during that time.

    A couple of years into my first job out of school, though, I had to cut way, way back on that stuff, & by 2008 I'd pretty much quit everything except running & karate. Less than a year later, I ended up with my first running-related overuse injury ("general hip dysfunction, not otherwise specified"). After about eight months of hoping that if I just iced & foam rolled the hell out of it it would go away, I wound up at UCSF Sports Medicine & then in physical therapy for four months.

    My PTs made a few things abundantly clear:

      1) A strong, balanced core is not optional for safe distance running. Roughly 75% of the non-traumatic running injuries (ie, not things like sprained ankles) they see are ultimately traced back to weak or imbalanced core muscles in one way or another.

      2) Cavemen did not have to do core strength work to run miles and miles safely because they spent most of their non-running hours standing, squatting, climbing, wrestling, or otherwise doing manual labor. (Basically, their core work was called "normal life.")

      3) Most of us don't live like cavemen, so the options are 1) take care of your stability muscles, 2) don't run very much, or 3) be hurt all the time.

      4) Tightness / lack of flexibility is the other side of the muscle weakness coin. Ie, anything that is chronically tight is probably also weak, & thus doubly prone to injury.

    You know that tone people have when they are just. so. SICK of having the same conversation over and over and over? When they just don't have the energy to put it delicately anymore? It was like that.

    Want more detail on these points? Running Times is happy to oblige.

    On day one, they asked me to do a one-legged quarter squat on each leg & I couldn't do it, at least not without my leg wobbling all over the place & my knee collapsing inward. Their response: "Park it, cuz you're here til you can do 50 on each leg with no pain." After four months of ART, ultrasound, and flexibility / strength work 2-3 times a week plus extra at home, I finally passed all the strength criteria & graduated from what they laughingly referred to as "basic training" -- meaning I wasn't really strong enough yet, but I was out of the red zone & knew enough about what to do that I could probably finish the job on my own.

    The parting message? "Keep it up or you'll be right back here in six months."

    Since then, I have gone through phases of being better & worse about keeping up the routine that originally got me out of there. The "worse" phases were usually identified by a little twinge in my right hip, and most of the time that's been enough to spur me back into action. This last marathon cycle was a crazy busy one in my non-running life, though, and for all that I really, really, REALLY intended to stay on top of the strength stuff, most of the time I barely had time for the actual running, & my core exercises were something I did on karate days when I got to class on time (which covers some of what I need to do but not everything) or squeezed into 10-15 minute sessions at 12:30 in the morning when I'd suddenly remembered on my way to bed that I hadn't done a lick of it in two weeks.

    I first knew something was wrong at the Healdsburg Half in October when all the rolling hills were shredding my hamstrings & glutes by the end of the race. Then in November I started having the little hip twinges & getting giant, painful knots in the piriformis area. During CIM when my left foot crapped out & I had to compensate with my right leg, I only made it a few miles before I started having shooting pains all through the hip / thigh area on that side. And then there's my feet in general, which have been pretty much a hot mess for at least half the year.

    A month of rest did not solve any of this. As of early January I was still dealing with most of it, and on several occasions I'd pondered seriously whether some of it was potentially getting worse and just on the cusp of keeping me from running. And that brings me to the day a few weeks back when I finally said enough.

    Enough putting out fires.

    Enough writing woe-is-me blog posts about this or that leg gremlin.

    Enough games of "Running Injury Bingo," of waiting for the next ache or pain & wondering what it will be this time.

    Enough crossing my fingers & hoping things will resolve themselves with a little rolling & rest.

    Enough doing "you know, something" "when I have some time" or "when I think about it."

    Because it wasn't working. Drastic action was clearly called for, and I knew the first thing I had to do was recommit to some hard truths:

    • Core strength / mobility work is not "extra." If I want to be the fastest, strongest runner I can be, it's an essential part of training that can't be ignored or shunted to the side any more than long runs or speed work can. If I'm feeling like I have time to run 40 miles in a week but no time for taking care of my soft tissue, then what that really means is that I have time to run 30-35 miles & do 2-3 core work sessions.
    • What gets scheduled gets done. Different people do better with different amounts of structure, but I am the type of person who is MUCH more likely to do something if it is specifically scheduled. My runs gets scheduled, so if CS/M stuff is truly going to be on equal footing and a real priority, then it needs to be scheduled as well.
    • Priorities require sacrifice. Again, if I can get behind that for running, I need to do the same for CS/M & just accept it. There will be a cost, and if I'm not willing to pay it, I'm back to either not running much or feeling lousy all the time.
    • If you really want something, you'll find a way. If not, you'll find excuses. In general I abhor pithy motivational slogans, but this one is so incredibly true that it hurts. So effing FIND A WAY.

    So I've found one, in the form of the gym near my office. Yes, there is a monetary cost, but it's a pretty basic gym, & the fees are substantially more reasonable than I was expecting--really just enough to motivate me to make sure I get my money's worth each month. In addition to the lunch-time yoga & Pilates classes I've mentioned before, I also have access to the weight room & treadmills, which is nice.

    There is also a time cost (obviously). The mid-day classes meant I would be giving up a lunch break two days a week, but to be honest I almost never take an actual "break" anyway & just end up scarfing my lunch in ten minutes or so mid-project, so actually leaving the building to move around a little is probably a good thing. Given that, it seemed easiest to just make a routine of it & go every day during the same time. On Mondays & Wednesdays I do yoga or Pilates, and on the other days I do general core stuff.

    Making a routine of it & going to the same place at the same time every day has completely resolved the "I'll do it when I think about it / have some extra time / get around to it" issue. Yes, obviously, there will occasionally be days when I'll be busy at work or have meetings scheduled & will have to skip it (or swing by on my way home), but even so, I'll still be doing about a thousand times better than my previous haphazard approach.

    At the heart of it, I think the difficulty with attending to core strength is often based on how we're motivated. Positive reinforcement is an incredibly strong motivator -- we run more, we get faster. We study more, we get a better grade. We practice our badminton, & we win more badminton matches. Our brains are wired to make the connection between the two, which motivates us to keep doing the behavior.

    But the thing about doing solid core work is that the effect you actually see is...nothing. As in no aches, no pains, no nagging injuries. Kind of like keeping up on your car maintenance tends to result in no catastrophic car problems, and eating well tends to result in having no heart attacks. Yes, these are desirable results, but our brains are much less likely to link the absence of something--even something catastrophic--to a behavior than they are the presence of something even modestly positive. Which makes it that much easier to say, "Eh, I haven't had any injuries lately. I can skip it this one time." Then we're doing it once a week, then once a month, then skipping some muscle groups, then doing half as many reps....You know where that leads.

    Clearly there are magical people out there who do nothing but run, miles & miles & miles, never do any kind of stretching or strength stuff, and are in perfect health all the time. As I understand it, though, they are the exception and not the rule. And I am very, very clearly not that exception.

    So far it's been just two weeks, and although it seems unlikely, I feel like I'm seeing some noticeable improvement. I don't feel like a train wreck after my runs. The pain in my right hip is about half as bad as it's been for the last month. Even my feet, which have existed in a state of near-debilitating pain for the past few weeks, are feeling semi-normal. I can't imagine it's been long enough for this stuff to have had that much of an impact, but I will sure as hell take it.

    Have you fallen off the strength / mobility wagon?

    Are you getting back on it in 2013?

    Were you never on it to begin with because you're one of those magical people that I hate really really admire & wish I was one of?